The numbers 1-84-27 may seem mysterious but, to cut the reader’s confusion short, they are related to the Saudi Project for the Utilization of Hajj Meat. They simply mean that, last year, the project was able to slaughter about 1 million animals in 84 hours and distribute them to deserving beneficiaries in 27 Muslim countries. Distribution started with the poor in the Haram area of Makkah.
This pioneering and outstanding project was launched 37 years ago. The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is honored to manage it on behalf of the government. The project has helped facilitate the performance of rituals, protect the environment of the holy sites from pollution and prevent waste by providing meat to the needy. Providing food to the poor and the hungry receives special attention from Saudi Arabia. In this context, the IsDB is working with the Kingdom to expand the scope of the project to include fighting hunger throughout the Muslim world, especially in the light of a steady increase in the numbers of the poor and hungry in IsDB member countries.
Before the project, livestock would be slaughtered and thrown in Mina between camps and on the road. In the evening, vehicles of the municipality, or Holy Makkah Municipality, would collect the meat and bury or burn it. There are photographs, films, articles and novels from that period showing the scale of soil, air and groundwater pollution and describing the persistent smell of dead livestock for nearly two months after Hajj. The government was spending about SR20 million ($5.3 million) on landfills to accommodate these carcasses.
However, after the issuance of a fatwa authorizing the use of sacrificial meat for distribution to the poor of Haram as well as among the Muslim poor, the Kingdom established this outstanding project. In its first year, 63,000 animals were slaughtered, and that number has continued to increase along with the rise in the number of pilgrims, until it reached nearly 1 million last year. The distribution of meat to the poor of Haram starts on the first day of Eid Al-Adha, and shipping to Muslim countries starts on the first day of Muharram. In addition, meat is distributed within the Kingdom through 250 charities that are accredited by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and which have refrigerators and freezers to preserve the meat and help transport it to the deserving beneficiaries.
The total amount of sacrificial meat distributed from the beginning of the project until last year was about 33 million animals to 100 million people in the Muslim world.
When the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the Kingdom, the project participated in the “Birran Bi Makkah” campaign launched by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, the Governor of the Makkah Region, to help the needy. The project, in cooperation with charities, neighborhood associations and “awqaf” (endowments) in Makkah, has distributed 15,000 carcasses or 150,000 kilograms of meat. Nearly 13,000 carcasses were also distributed to various charities throughout the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s support for the project is unlimited. In the context of facilitating the performance of the rituals and expanding the project’s role in providing food to the Muslim poor, the Kingdom has allocated more than SR2 billion to establish new slaughterhouses equipped with an integrated, automatic system for skinning and meat cleaning, cutting, transport, packaging, preservation, distribution and canning. Also planned are a renewable energy plant, a wastewater treatment plant and a central complex to accommodate 1.5 million carcasses with the possibility of expanding the capacity to about 5 million carcasses. This is upon the instructions of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Studies and designs have been prepared and offered for bidding.
The Kingdom’s support can also be seen in the exemption of more than 20,000 project employees from visa fees and support for livestock voucher purchases, among others.
The project management is working with the IsDB Strategy and Transformation Department to prepare a comprehensive study to expand its role to be one of the Kingdom’s tools to fight hunger in the Muslim world. Some member countries are suffering from famines and, according to the Global Hunger Index, the number of people suffering from hunger is increasing, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, as a result of armed conflicts, droughts, climate change and the spread of diseases and epidemics. The number of people dying from hunger is also increasing. Therefore, the project launched a number of programs, such as the Charity, Birth Sacrifice and Will Program, with the aim of increasing the number of animals distributed among the poor and needy. This program allows a person to sign a contract to allocate a certain amount of money over a number of years to help the project slaughter livestock for the testator after his or her death.
I take the opportunity of the blessed month of Ramadan to invite my brothers and sisters in IsDB member countries and in Muslim communities in non-member countries to help support the project by participating in its various programs. The aim is to increase the number of animals that are being used so that the project can reach larger numbers of deserving beneficiaries.
• Dr. Bandar Hajjar is President of the Islamic Development Bank Group.